“Everyone says education is the key to a better tomorrow. It’s the key to a brighter today as well and that’s what makes it important to me. With education we unlock the solutions to many of the other issues people face wherever they are in the world.” – Marvin Mathew, USA

Combining social activism with education technology just makes good sense to Marvin Mathew. As founder of A Slice of the Pie (ASOP), Mathew has found a way to fulfill his twin passions for education and technology. The organization’s mission, according to Mathew, is to be “a socially-good business that provides cost-effective technologies to communities in developing markets while building computer literacy and closing the education gap.”

Mathew, who was heavily influenced by the commitment of his own 4th grade teacher, has managed to fit in an impressive number of socially-responsible projects in just a few years, including clean water and student voice initiatives. His latest project works through local and global, public and private partnerships to “very literally share a slice of the technology pie with the many people that haven’t been able to enjoy it,” Mathew says. He believes the organization can “play a pivotal role in shaping a new type of education model that integrates technology and access to a world of information.”

Recent advances in technology, notably the decreasing cost of computing power, are making Mathew’s dream possible. According to him, “At present we’re looking at the Rasberry Pi, a $25 computer that is the size of a credit card and can be powered with a phone charger. We are now in research and development to seek out partners and find the best ways to go about bringing access.”

In today’s Daily Edventure, Mathew shares more about his inspiring history (amazingly action-packed, considering that he’s only 22!) and what drives him. In the process, we get a peek into how socially-aware leaders are developed and nurtured – a fascinating insight for teachers. Enjoy!

What drew you to the field of education? Why is it important to you?

I’ve spent the last few years developing programs that could impact the lives of people positively, with a focus on giving people a hand-up to positive social and economic mobility.

Whatever my project at the time — clean water in Haiti, public advocacy for youth and community solutions in New York, young women’s empowerment in America, student voices around the world, etc. — the crux of the issues always led back to quality education.

Everyone says education is the key to a better tomorrow. It’s the key to a brighter today as well and that’s what makes it important to me. With education we unlock the solutions to many of the other issues people face wherever they are in the world.

Can you tell us about a favorite teacher, or someone who made a difference in your education?

Mrs. Arroyo, she was my 4th grade chorus teacher. I wasn’t much of a vocalist when I walked into Mrs. Arroyo’s class, but after hearing me sing One Little Candle Mrs. Arroyo made it a point to invest time into me and send me to the New York State Music Festivals. I would soon become competitive with students older than me, competing on some of the highest levels for a 5th and 6th grader and quickly continuing onwards to reach distinctions in all-district, all-county, and area – all-state by 11th grade.

Teachers should be able to spot potential and inspire greatness. That’s exactly what Mrs. Arroyo did for me and so many others. Music would go on to play a large role in my life and it continues to, but it’s influence on me would have never been as great if that woman wasn’t there to add to my trajectory.

Please describe how your professional achievements have advanced innovation in education.  What has changed as a result of your work?

Much of my professional work has come as a result of various entrepreneurial programs and projects that I’ve launched while a full-time student. The issues my friends and I would address were always issues that inhibited education; access is something I care deeply about.

At a local level, I was able to bring together ranking politicians, business executives, and students around the same table with teachers to discuss local problems and execute student-led service projects that helped students gain valuable experiential learning. One of our largest successes was gathering over 4,000 books in a short two-month book drive and donating it to organizations in New York working on early child literacy. This was the Rockland Roundtable Initiative, 2011. Since then we’ve seen a rise in project-based learning. Students are able to better apply and retain what they’ve learned.

On the international level, it was through the Water Justice Alliance back in 2010 in response to the earthquake in Haiti. A few of my friends felt compelled to respond. Without access to clean water, there was no way any of the Haitian students were going to be able to focus on their studies or on bettering their communities through education. This was unfortunately not a new problem with the earthquake, but the timing allowed us to appeal to a more educated population of Americans ready and willing to support through services or money. This project continues by way of other organizations that took over. Two of my partners in this continued on to incorporate a non-profit called Just Save One. They’ve provided water to a school house in Kenya as part of a growing portfolio of work. This makes it easy for the parents to bring their children to school, because parents need to go and pick up water from there anyway.

Global education is important to me. When I studied abroad some friends and I organized BridgeSport, an organization that allows American students studying abroad to connect to local children in their cities through sports. BridgeSport infuses fun (sports) as the common language and helps students gain ten-fold from their global experience because they get to learn the essence of who people are. Although I launched this in Rome, it is popular with young people studying abroad and our team is working to enable other youth going abroad to easily use our approach to start new BridgeSport cities around the world. This fosters intercultural dialogue and builds cross-cultural communication — both keys to global education.

Innovation in education doesn’t always mean integrating technology. Social innovation and finding new ways to do things are key to advancement and keeping things cool. As Ban Ki Moon’s UN Youth Envoy says, “Keep it Funky.” Much of my work has been in social innovation to create better or more holistic education. On the more technical side of my work is my newest venture, A Slice of the Pie (ASOP).

How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?

Social media has been an invaluable asset. It’s changed the landscape in terms of access. Where in the past you’d write, print, sign, and seal maybe 20 letters in 15 minutes, now it’s possible to send information via an event page and invitations to all of your Facebook friends with the click of one button. Our primary means of communications with our advisers, members, and participants in all of these programs is email. The role of technology is simple and often goes forgotten, but my ability to make as much of as impact would be significantly stinted without it.

In your view, what is the most exciting innovation happening in education today?

Applications and software integrated technology as well as social media in the classroom and in schools. As teachers and students are learning how to use technology in the classroom the classroom experience is quickly changing. Schools that get it are moving classrooms away from the 16th century model of industrial education with students in rows, silent and watching on as the teacher lectured for hours. Instead, technology is producing interactive classrooms where the teacher is a guide steering the conversation and the learning process. This is allowing students to develop their own skills and think a bit more creatively while applying solutions through example and having those examples verified by conversation.

Towards the future, artificial intelligence is going to play an ever-more impressive role in individualizing the classroom experience so that teachers can lead the classroom while computers and technology monitor progress of individual students as to make sure everyone is learning, applying concepts, and finding new knowledge in the best fit for them.

Technology can never replace the human experience, but it can enhance and drive effectiveness up. Social media in schools is shown to increase attendance monumentally. For the impact of innovation in classrooms look no further than Green Bronx Machine or living classrooms. Schools have the potential to become ecosystems of learning. That’s exciting.

Is there a 21st century skill (critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, or creativity and innovation) that you are most passionate about? Why?

I’d say critical thinking is most important to me. I believe that when we can critically think at a high level and are receptive to our society, then we will naturally consider solutions to the problems we face. Ideating in this manner allows innovative approaches which leads to new solutions to old problems.

A focus on critical thinking will result in greater problem solving, creativity, and innovation. It’s also important for me to add that these are near impossible to divorce from each other. The mix of all these is an equation for entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship is what will solve the problems of the 21st century because critical thinking is central to that.

If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?

A computer with Internet. Education is greater than the construct that we’ve built around it historically. Life-long learners seek to acquire information at any age. Access to information is only broadened when we offer Internet because the Internet is the ideas of billions of people that one person would simply be unable to cross in their lifetime. Internet gives limitless access to a wealth of knowledge while allowing every person the ability to seek what matters most to them.

It’s great to educate people on a global standard, but if we can educate the people who struggle with hunger on sustainable farming practices or the community that has issues with water purification on the solutions of those across the world who face the same issue, then people have learned how to solve their own problems. We are filling the collective potential of the world and it’s good business because able people can join our market systems.

What is your country doing well currently to support education?

President Obama has announced a focus on STEM education. This is good news. STEM naturally leads to critical thinkers and problem solvers. Although I’m a government major my mother was sure to drill STEM into me and that’s why I analyze issues with a heavy critical eye intersecting practical knowledge and applied knowledge. As a country, if we can do that well across the board, then we will raise generations of problem solvers.

How must education change in your country to ensure that students are equipped to thrive in the 21st century?

I do think we should push towards adding Arts and making it STEAM education. STEAM allows us to build the whole individual and allows the student to thrive in any environment. We want holistic citizens and that’s what STEAM education will provide us — well balanced citizens that are more than capable of being an informed force. These changes will set us in the right direction to have young people that solve societal problems.

About Marvin Mathew

Marvin Mathew is a philanthropist, social entrepreneur, and thought leader. A former college student body president, non-profit leader, and international consultant, Marvin is one of the country’s youngest advocates for integrated solutions to bring government, industry, and civil society together, truly a golden triangle. He is a millennial speaker and educator on corporate social responsibility and socially conscious capitalism focused on pragmatic business solutions that strengthen the corporation and the community. To spread this message he has shared common forums with such leaders as President Bill Clinton; Muhammad Yunus, Kofi Annan, Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever and the CEOs of Barclays & Siemens.

  • Birthplace: New York
  • Current residence: College Park, Maryland
  • Education: Government/Politics, International Development and Conflict Transformation
  • Website I check every day: Twitter and Facebook
  • Person who inspires me most: Muhammad Yunus
  • Favorite childhood memory: Beating all of my friends and my sister in Hang Em’ High on the original Xbox on Halo 1. You couldn’t beat me with the pistol… unstoppable!
  • Next travel destination (work or pleasure): India or Haiti for work and pleasure.
  • When was the last time you laughed? Why? Earlier today. I was laughing with another student. We were laughing at how old we are now that the college scene was behind us. We were studying on a Thursday night in the library… unheard of!
  • Favorite book: A View From the Roof by Calvin Mackie
  • Favorite music: Fort Minor- Remember the Name,  Tupac- Dear Mama, Nas- One Mic
  • What is the best advice you have ever received? Wake up every morning and ask yourself:
  • Your favorite quote or motto: “Love your neighbors as you love yourself (Bible),” “Live on Purpose,” and “We stand on the shoulders of giants.”
  1. What is your passion?
  2. What skills do you have/ how can you get those skills that can help you reach that passion?
  3. What would you do if you couldn’t fail?
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